This article is presented in partnership with Visit Hermann.

Hermann, Missouri, has a history of facilitating acceptance and change in a developing America. The relationship between German immigrants and enslaved African Americans in Hermann is one of unity in their shared struggle for freedom. Hermann was home to early abolitionists who helped fight for the freedom of all Americans, not just their own. As an advocate for democracy, Hermann stood out as a safe haven for the oppressed and welcomed all people. 

In observance of this history, a free symposium, The Shared History of Germans and African Americans in Missouri, is taking place on February 29 from 2 to 5 PM, at the Hermannhof Festhalle, 237 East 1st Street in Hermann. The event will highlight the contributions of Germans toward the abolition of slavery before and during the Civil War and relationships with African Americans then and now. 

It is relatively unknown that German immigrants took an early stand against slavery in Missouri. As early as 1845, German newspapers in Missouri spoke out against slavery. In addition, Germans joined the Union in large numbers and helped the Colored Infantry to start Lincoln University.

“There is a rich shared history between Germans and African Americans in Missouri that isn’t widely known,” says Tammy Bruckerhoff, tourism director with Visit Hermann. “Many German immigrants only spoke German yet recognized that the hope for a growing democracy in America could only be realized if slavery was abolished. Finding a home and work were formidable tasks yet with these challenges, Germans took a stand against slavery. Some intellectuals started their own newspapers to spread their ideals for a color-blind democracy. Hermann was ground zero with the earliest anti-slavery newspaper the Hermanner Wochenblatt started in 1845.”

During the symposium, members of the humanities community including historians, activists, and a playwright will discuss the relationship between Germans and African Americans before and after the Civil War. The symposium panel includes Dr. Gary R. Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri; Dr. John A. Wright, Fulbright Scholar, historian, and educator; Dr. Sydney Norton, associate professor at Saint Louis University’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures; and Cecilia A. Nadal, a sociologist, playwright, and consultant. 

The symposium will also include musical performances and an excerpt from the play An Amazing Story: German Abolitionists of Missouri. The original play is about the role of German immigrants in the fight to end slavery. It is written by symposium panelist Cecilia Nadal and is inspired by real historical figures such as Friedrich Munch, Judge Arnold Krekel, and August Boernstein. German immigrants who settled in St. Louis in the 1800s and were vocal anti-slavery advocates. These German Americans worked closely with African Americans who joined the Union Army and fought for the right to an education and equality. Most German immigrants pledged their allegiance to the Union during the Civil War and became Union soldiers or Home Guard volunteers though, of course, “some immigrants set aside their values and bought slaves in order to survive and be accepted during the period before and after [the war],” as Nadal wrote about her research. The play premiered in St. Louis with engagements in Washington, Missouri, and at the Hermann Showboat Community Theatre. On February 22, the theatre will host The Gift of Jazz: A Tribute to Black History Month to celebrate the genre’s musical contribution to the world.

Symposium attendees can tour the Deutschheim State Historic Site, at 101 West Second Street, from 10 AM to 2 PM, where they can learn more about the Hermanner Wochenblatt, the German-language, anti-slavery newspaper from 1845 and see one of three, original, signed, 1865 Ordinances Abolishing Slavery in Missouri.


This event is sponsored by the Missouri Humanities Council and Cross-Cultural Strategies Inc. in collaboration with Visit Hermann, the Deutschheim State Historic Site, and the Showboat Community Theater.